Welcome to the most magical eight days in American politics — the winter week between the Iowa caucuses and the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary where presidential nominees are often made and White House aspirations crushed.
This year will be even more intense than usual with the largest field of Democratic presidential candidates ever and a contest more unsettled than any in recent memory.
Add to that a jam-packed news cycle: an impeachment trial, the State of the Union, a Democratic presidential debate, and a rally with President Trump just hours before polls open.
“I cannot recall any primary like this one. It is just so unprecedented on so many levels,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley, who is expecting record turnout.
It will be a dizzying schedule for candidates and voters, roughly half of whom tell pollsters they are still making up their minds.
“This week is going to be as frantic as I have never seen,” said Rochester Mayor Caroline McCarley, a former staffer on three Democratic presidential campaigns, who has endorsed Senator Amy Klobuchar. “How a candidate tries to break through with all that is going on is beyond me.”
On Tuesday, President Trump is set to deliver the State of the Union. On Wednesday, the US Senate is poised to vote on whether to acquit or remove Trump from office. On Wednesday night and Thursday night, CNN begins airing back-to-back televised town hall meetings with eight candidates. Friday night is a presidential debate. Saturday features a massive New Hampshire Democratic Party fund-raiser where each candidate will present their closing arguments in front of 10,000 activists.
And then the scheduling coup de grace. On Monday night, the eve of the primary, Trump will hold a rally in Manchester.
All of the New Hampshire hustle was expected to begin after Iowans went home from their caucuses.
Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, former mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and entrepreneur Andrew Yang all had chartered planes to fly from their election night parties in Des Moines straight to New Hampshire.
When Buttigieg lands, he is scheduled to make a 7 a.m. stop in Nashua and will receive the endorsement of the city’s mayor, Jim Donchess, according to people familiar with the plans. (Businessman Tom Steyer will first fly to Nevada, where is doing better in polling, before heading back to New Hampshire on Wednesday.)
The candidates will join Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who have all camped out in the state while attention turned to Iowa.
While a campaign’s ground game is key for the Iowa caucuses, when simply persuading people to show up on a Monday night is basically the whole point — in New Hampshire, the candidate’s message is key.
So heavy television advertising, particularly from Steyer, may have a big impact. So, too, social media advertising, where Warren is particularly focused.
But in New Hampshire, a state that traditionally has the highest presidential primary turnout in the nation, the entire dynamic can be shaken in an instant.
“All year, voters met these candidates and fell in love with some of them. But in the final days, Democrats return to their focus on electability and look for clues, maybe a moment, and suddenly they are with a different candidate,” said Neil Levesque, director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anslem College in Manchester, N.H.
Like in Iowa, voters in New Hampshire know what they are looking for: the candidate with the best chance of defeating Trump. They just appear to be unclear about the answer. A handful of party leaders here say that this is where New Hampshire could very well follow Iowa’s lead and pick the same person.
“I would even say it is likely that Iowa and New Hampshire will have the same winner because everyone is so focused on electability to a degree I have never seen,” said longtime New Hampshire Democratic strategist Judy Reardon.
In the nine competitive Democratic presidential primary seasons, Iowa and New Hampshire have agreed on the same candidate four times. All four times that person has gone on to be the party’s nominee.
But there is a twist to that this year. Never before was there a billionaire waiting for them after the early states, as former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is doing this time.
Indeed, if all goes as planned, on Tuesday night, as Sanders will hold his first post-Iowa rally in Milford, N.H., Buttigieg is expected to be in the state’s Lakes Region, Klobuchar in Nashua, and Yang in the Upper Valley, Bloomberg will be at his own rally — in Philadelphia.
For a half-century, the days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary have provided some of the most iconic and shocking moments in national politics.
During this golden political time, Ronald Reagan declared at a 1980 Nashua debate that he was “paying for this microphone,” a moment that upended the race.
There was a 1984 primary that took place in a blizzard.
In 1992, it was the stretch when the world learned Bill Clinton was a draft dodger and he reacted by giving his “last dog dies” speech at the Dover Elks Club.
In 2000, Al Gore’s team created a traffic jam in Bedford to block voters from voting for his opponent, and in 2008, Hillary Clinton shed a tear in Portsmouth and shocked many with her win over Barack Obama a day later.
There is concern among some in New Hampshire that impeachment might dampen the magic of the days leading up to the primary.
But even then, said Buckley, the party chairman, “the week will still be magical to us.”